Marian Burbine, the wife of John Burbine, who was accused of sexually molesting children, has pleaded guilty to charges involving “recklessly placing six young children at substantial risk of sexual abuse” through her unlicensed child care program that her husband became involved in, prosecutors said Friday.
The 48-year-old Wakefield woman pleaded guilty in Middlesex Superior Court to six counts of reckless endangerment of a child and two counts of operating an unlicensed day care business, the office of Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan said in a statement. Judge Thomas Billings continued sentencing until June 23.
The charges stemmed from Marian Burbine’s placing the children in the sole care of her husband at times from 2010 to 2012, prosecutors said.
John Burbine, 50, died of injuries he suffered during a suicide attempt at the Middlesex County Jail in Cambridge in March. He was awaiting trial on multiple charges of rape, sexual assault, and related offenses against children in the child-care program, Ryan’s office said.
The victims included 13 infants and young children, one only 8 days old.
“Instead of ensuring the children’s welfare and safety . . . the defendant knowingly put them at risk for sexual abuse by her husband,” Ryan said. “This is a parent’s worst fear, and we hope the resolution of this case will permit the families of these young children to begin the healing process.”
Burbine’s program, Waterfall Education Center, operated in Wakefield from August 2010 through August 2012, authorities said.
According to Ryan’s office, the alleged rapes and abuse occurred without Marian Burbine’s presence and direct knowledge. But prosecutors said she knew her husband was a registered sex offender who had three convictions for indecently assaulting children in 1989 and was accused of sexually abusing young boys in 2005 and 2009.
Parents using the child-care services left their children with John Burbine on Marian Burbine’s assurance that “John was an experienced and problem-free babysitter,” Ryan’s office said in the statement.
Ryan notified reporters that the families of the victims asked not to be contacted for privacy reasons.
Gerard T. Leone Jr., the former Middlesex district attorney who initially brought the charges against the Burbines, welcomed the news of Marian Burbine’s guilty plea.
“I’m glad she’s being held responsible for what she did,” said Leone, now a partner at Nixon Peabody. “Frankly, she should be ashamed of herself for having any role in letting him have access to those kids.”
John Burbine had been held without bail since 2012 after a complaint in July of that year involving a 2-year-old under the couple’s care. As a result, Middlesex authorities executed a search warrant and allegedly found hundreds of videos and images of sexual assaults on the children on John Burbine’s home computer.
His victims were infants and toddlers from Stoneham, Medford, Newton, Reading, Melrose, Woburn, and Waltham, Ryan’s office said.
Leone said John Burbine was accused of “the absolute worst predatory crimes on children I’ve ever seen.”
At one point, Burbine proposed castration in return for a reduced sentence.
Burbine was found in his cell March 7, his lawyer, William Barabino, said.
Marian Burbine, temporarily released from house arrest, was present when her husband died about 10 hours later at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Barabino, who was with Marian Burbine in the hospital when John Burbine died, expressed support for the victims Friday.
“I guess, at this point, one would hope that the victims take some comfort in [the case] being closed,” Barabino said.
Attempts to reach John Ruehrwein, Marian Burbine’s lawyer, were unsuccessful Friday night.
Waterfall Education Center was not licensed by the Department of Early Education and Care, meaning the Burbines could not legally care for children outside the children’s homes, Ryan’s office said.
Most of the alleged assaults took place in the victims’ homes, prosecutors said. Court documents state that parents would ask Marian Burbine to look after their children, often at their homes, only to have John Burbine assume responsibility.
Prosecutors said that John Burbine would claim his wife was ill for extended periods of time while he watched the children, sometimes providing overnight care, during which he sexually assaulted them.
Carmen L. Durso, a Boston lawyer who represents sexual abuse victims, said prosecuting an enabler of crimes against children is rare.
“It would be a better thing if more people were prosecuted, because it would wake a lot of people up,” he said.
Wendy Murphy, a former sexual crimes prosecutor who teaches at New England Law Boston, echoed Durso’s comments.
“It sends the right message to any woman out there at all suspicious of a boyfriend or husband to be more vigilant,” she said.